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Big Ten play gets underway with five conference games this week.
There is no more MACtion. No more chances to get embarrassed by Notre Dame. From here on out it is a nine week fight to get to Indianapolis and everyone (except Penn State and Ohio state) is dead even as of right now. We don't get into the fight until next week along with Michigan, but the beginning of conference play gives everyone a second chance. Also, as bad as the Big Ten has looked anything is possible.
Is a Purdue-Northwestern or Purdue-Minnesota title game on the table? You bet! I know I would take Purdue vs. anyone, especially since two teams in our division are ineligible and two more have looked pretty bad defensively against any team with a semi-competent offense. Maybe the Purdue-Wisconsin game the day after my 33rd birthday really is the de facto Leaders Division title game. We'll see.
Here is this week's full lineup:
Indiana (2-1) at Northwestern (4-0) Noon, Big Ten Network
I am all for making Indiana the absolute worst in any sport, and that is what is at stake here. For year Northwestern, because of an atrocious 70's, 80's, and early 90's was dead last in losing at the FBS level. Coming into this season they have been beaten 632 times, which was the record. Indiana has slowly catching up, however, ever since Northwestern came out of nowhere in 1995 and became a regular bowl team at least. Now the Hoosiers and Wildcats are tied for the most losses in FBS history with 632 each.
Yes, Indiana will likely still take that honor later this year given how both have looked, but why wait? After tomorrow you might really be able to say that yes, Indiana is the worst team in the history of college football.
In the link above Sippin' On Purple breaks it all down, but Northwestern might finally be able to shed once and for all the label of loser and pass it on to a team that hasn't even won a conference championship since LBJ was in office. All you really need to do is look at the running game. Does Northewstern have one? The answer is yes with Venric Mark having rushed for 399 yards so far. Because Northwestern has a running game Indiana cannot stop it. Northwestern 38, Indiana 21
Penn State (2-2) at Illinois (2-2) Noon, ESPN
Now that we are in conference play it is all about what helps Purdue the most to get to Indianapolis. In that case any loss that Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois can suffer helps us the most. It doesn't matter one iota what Penn State and Ohio State do this year as long as Purdue finishes ahead of Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. I am confident we can easily finish ahead of two of those, but Wisconsin still concerns me.
That said, there is some bad blood here and that is why the Nittany Lions can help us. New Fighting Illini head coach was not shy in going after Penn State players when they were released to go wherever they pleased. Now he gets a motivated Penn State team that is starting to play well except for atrocious special teams.
Calling the Fighting Illini defense abysmal would be a compliment at this point. Matt McGloin is getting what he can out of the Penn State offense and the defense isn't that bad. Illinois also is likely going to rotate between Riley O'Toole and Nathan Scheelhaase, neither of which has exactly set the world on fire. Penn State 27, Illinois 20
Minnesota (4-0) at Iowa (2-2) Noon, ESPN2
After a week of sitting in the corner and thinking about what it has done OMHR faces off with allegedly its most fierce rival in the battle for Floyd. We all know Iowa's hatred is directly most hotly at Purdue, but for purposes of discussion this is a big week for the Hawkeyes. The Golden Gophers have, on paper, been the underdog the last two years but have still won Floyd, but to the dismay of Iowa fans.
This could be a make or break game for Iowa. They follow this game with a home date against Penn State sandwiched between visits to Michigan State and Northwestern. Minnesota, on the other hand, is riding about as high as anyone and could actually have a prime-time matchup at home against Purdue in a few weeks as a Big Ten title game preview. Yes, that last sentence is not that crazy.
Mark Weisman was just about the only Hawkeye that showed up last week with 217 yards and three touchdowns. After being about 7th on the depth chart in the spring he's become the latest unlikely featured back after Damon Bullock got hurt. That is, until AIRBHG finds out.
Iowa just looks like a broken team right now, and that is the basis for this pick. Minnesota 27, Iowa 17
Marshall (2-2) at Purdue (2-1) 3:15pm, Big Ten Network
I'd be lying if I said that Marshall's offense didn't make me nervous, but I also know we do not have to pitch a complete shutout in this game to win. Their defense is equally bad against the run and the pass so as long as we at least get a few stops and avoid a rash of turnovers like the EKU game we should be okay.
What I want to see is the Caleb TerBush has been touting since the end of training camp. If TerBush really was ahead of Robert Marve even before the season started and had full command of the offense I want to see it. That means confident throws, fewer dumb mistakes, and smart decisions with the football. I have no idea at all if Marve is going to play and I don't trust the knee even if he does. That means TerBush has to be THE guy if we're going to have a special season.
I expect a tight shootout, but I will really start to get excited if the defense goes out and puts the clamps on one of the best offenses we will see all year. If we can hold Marshall under 20 points we'll know that the defense is pretty damn good and ready for Big Ten play. Following that, it means that TerBush and the offense don't have to go out and throw down 45 points per game to win. Purdue 45, Marshall 31
Ohio State (4-0) at Michigan State (3-1) 3:30pm ABC
Earlier in this article I stated that I didn't care what happened as long as the rest of the Big Ten helped Purdue. One caveat to that is that I want Purdue to finish ahead of Ohio State and Penn State in the division, especially Ohio State. Penn State is not going to be a factor for years, but Ohio State is a team that would definitely champion winning a division even when they weren't eligible. They would asterisk our achievement if they finish ahead of us, so I definitely want them to go down.
I also continue to think that they are not that good of team. Offensively they are still just Braxton Miller running around. He has almost 1200 yards of offense to his name while Devin Smith doesn't even have 300. Michigan State, despite its offensive struggles, has the defense to make Ohio State do something other than run around doing Miller things.
Unfortunately, the OSU defense is also good and the MSU offense has essentially sat seven of the last eight quarters of football out. The Spartans crapped themselves at home in their last big home game, so what will they do against the Buckeyes? Michigan State 21, Ohio State 20
Wisconsin (3-1) at Nebraska (3-1) 8pm, ABC
We need the Badgers to lose. Every loss that Wisconsin gets eases our chances of reaching Indianapolis, so I am a big fan of the Cornhuskers this weekend. Nebraska brings the best offense by far that Wisconsin has faced yet. The Badgers have been bailed out by the defense so far, but can they keep Nebraska out of the end zone?
You have to think that there is a small element of payback for the rude welcome Wisconsin gave Nebraska to the Big Ten last season. Wisconsin rolled 48-17 in Nebraska's first ever Big Ten game, so the Huskers would definitely like to turn that result around, especially when they look like the best team in the Legends Division this week.
As usual, Nebraska has to have a stout defense and keep Montee Ball in the Phantom Zone from Krypton he has been held in all season. I don't want Wisconsin to figure out its offensive issue until October 14th. Then, they can do whatever they want. Nebraska 35, Wisconsin 28